Monday, November 26, 2012

9 Easy Home Winterization Projects

9 Easy Home Winterization Projects

As we near the end of November, we all are starting to sense that the infamous Chicago winter is right around the corner. While winter can be a beautiful time in Evanston with its charming downtown gleaming with holiday lights and cheer, having energy bills go through the roof is something that seems to weigh heavily on everyone’s mind.
To ensure your Evanston home is as energy efficient as possible this winter, we’ve gathered ten projects that you can do this weekend. You’ll not only save money, but you’ll be promoting eco-friendly living at the same time, which is something we can all appreciate! Make your Evanston home feel warmer without turning up the heat this winter. With these winterization tips, you'll save energy without spending much money

1. Dodge the Draft(s)
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, drafts can waste 5% to 30% of your energy use. Start simple and adopt that old Great Depression fixture – the draft snake, which you can easily make yourself. Just place a rolled bath towel under a drafty door, or make a more attractive DIY draft snake with googly eyes, felt tongues and the like. You can use any scraps of fabric -- even neckties -- and fill with sand or kitty litter for heft. Make sure drafts aren't giving your thermostat a false reading too, and read on for more advanced solutions.

2. Change Furnace Filters
Yes it's easy to forget, but it's important to replace or clean furnace filters once a month during the heating season. Dirty filters restrict airflow and increase energy demand. Here's a worry-saving tip: mark a monthly check on your calendar.
Better, consider switching to a permanent filter, which will reduce waste and hassle. Did you know that disposable fiberglass filters trap a measly 10 to 40% of debris? Electrostatic filters trap around 88%, and are much better at controlling the bacteria, mold, viruses and pollen that cause illness and irritation. They cost $50 to $1,000 or more. Another good choice is a genuine HEPA filter (like the one pictured), which can remove at least 99.97% of airborne particles. HEPA filters are based on Department of Energy standards. But avoid "HEPA-like" filters, which can be vastly less effective. If your entire furnace is in need of replacement, it will cost a lot more -- but replacing an inefficient burner for a modern machine will save you every month through the heating season.

3. Run Fans in Reverse
Most people think of fans only when they want to be cool, but many ceiling units come with a handy switch that reverses the direction of the blades. Counterclockwise rotation produces cooling breezes while switching to clockwise makes it warmer: air pooled near the ceiling is circulated back into the living space - cutting your heating costs as much as 10%!

4. Turn Down Your Water Heater
While many conventional water heaters are set to 140 degrees F by installers, most households don't need that much steam, and end up paying for it -- in dollars and the occasional scalding burn. Lowering the temperature to 120 degrees F (or lower) would reduce your water heating costs by 6% to 10%. If you start to wonder why you need a tank at all, then you may be ready for a tankless water heater, or to go solar.

5. Mind That Thermostat
It's easy to forget to turn down the heat when you leave your home, but doing so is one of the surest ways to save money. Most households shell out 50 to 70% of their energy budgets on heating and cooling, so why pay for what no one uses? For every degree you lower the thermostat during heating season, you'll save between 1 and 3% of your heating bill. Make it easier with a programmable thermostat; they are widely available for as little as $50, and the average family will save $180 a year with one. Go a step further and ask your local utility if it's making smart meters available in your area, as part of recent federal smart grid investments.

6. Put Up Some Plastic
For just a few dollars, pick up a window insulation kit at your local hardware or discount store. Don't worry -- properly installed, window plastic is essentially invisible. Adding a buffer against drafts and extra still air space can give a nice boost to your home's ability to hold heat. Save even more by hiring a pro to install a high-tech “low-e film” directly to the window glass. If your windows are old, consider investing in a set of efficient windows.

7. Use Caulking and Weatherstripping
Simple leaks can sap home energy efficiency by 5% to 30% a year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That means it pays to seal up gaps with caulking and weatherstripping.
Take a close look at places where two different building materials meet, such as corners, around chimneys, where pipes or wires exit and along the foundation. Use the incense test: carefully (avoiding drapes and other flammables) move a lit stick along walls; where the smoke wavers, you have air sneaking in. And heating or cooling sneaking out.
In another method, have someone on the outside blow a hair dryer around each window while you hold a lighted candle inside. If the candle flickers or goes out, you need to caulk or weather strip around the frame.

8. Put on a Sweater

Make like Jimmy Carter and dress warmer for winter, even inside. Gone are the days (for most of us at least) when we can afford to lounge around in our underwear while it's frosty outside. Remember what we said about each degree on the thermostat costing you money? Roughly speaking, a light long-sleeved sweater is worth about 2 degrees in added warmth, while a heavy sweater (even the ugliest of ugly sweaters) adds about 4 degrees. So cozy up and start saving.

9. Upgrade to an Efficient Furnace
Thankfully it's not something you have to do every year (or even every decade), but if your furnace is old you could save a lot of money in the long run (and improve your home's value) by upgrading to a new unit.
Make it an Energy Star-certified furnace and you'll save 15% to 20% versus standard new models. You could save 50% or more compared with many old furnaces still in operation. Photo Credit: Energy Star

Whether you decide to do a few, or all of these projects, you’ll find that the energy savings and eco-friendly choices will be well worth the effort this winter. Our goal is to not only help you buy or sell your home in Evanston, but to be Evanston Real Estate agents that have a holistic approach to the Evanston Real Estate market and lifestyle.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about buying or selling in Evanston. We’re here to help and look forward to talking with you!

The Thomas Team
@ Properties
Chicago's #1 Real Estate Brokerage
Chicago & North Shore Real Estate
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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Thomas Team is Proud to Sponsor Evanston's Flying Turkey Run!

One of the things we enjoy about being real estate agents in Evanston is the opportunity to tell potential buyers or those relocating to the area what makes Evanston such a great place to call “home.” This vibrant, community-centered town is a unique blend of big city life, with Chicago nearby, and small town atmosphere. Charming turn of the century homes as well as renovated downtown Evanston condos also provide a wide variety of living options!
As Evanston Real Estate agents, we want to provide you with up to date Evanston Real Estate market news and pertinent home buying and selling information, but also give you a taste of the Evanston lifestyle. Today, we’re highlighting a a great event taking place in Evanston this month that you won’t want to miss!


This certified 5K run and walk will be along the beautiful Evanston lakefront newly paved path beginning at Sheridan Road and Church Street.

Canned goods will be collected before the race to benefit the Evanston Harvest Food Pantry. Please bring non-perishable food items to donate to this worthy cause.

Every registered participant will receive a Goodie Bag for the event. The first 2000 participants will get a sweatshirt.

For full race details:

If you’re currently an Evanston resident, we’re sure you enjoy living in Evanston as much as we enjoy living and working here as Evanston Real Estate agents! Thinking of moving to this great city? Please feel free to contact us! We’ll answer any questions you may have about living in Evanston and can show you some of the gorgeous homes currently on the Evanston Real Estate market.

We look forward to hearing from you!

The Thomas Team
@ Properties

Chicago's #1 Real Estate Brokerage
Chicago & North Shore Real Estate
Visit Our Website
View Our Listings
Contact Us

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

House Prices: Looking for the Bottom? We May Be There

With sales and prices increasing in most regions of the country, it looks as though housing recovery is in full swing. There are more and more housing analysts declaring that we have turned the corner. A recent article on explains that now may be the time to act if you are thinking of purchasing ahome.
“Right now, conditions for buyersare exceptionally good, because current mortgage rates are at record low levels, and housing prices are still well off their peaks. Already though, recent numbers indicate that housing prices are starting to move. If this continues, mortgage rates might follow. In particular, if lower-end housing prices are now making the strongest gains, people looking to enter the housing market for the first time should prepare to act.” 

Others Are Also Calling a Bottom

In a Chicago Sun Times article, co-creator of the Case-Shiller home price index Robert Shiller agreed saying that, even though there are still questions in the overall economy, “it’s a good time to buy a house”.

Ivy Zelman, chief executive at research firm Zelman & Associates, has also said:
       “[Housing] is turning positive and we see the data reflecting that.”
Writing in the Financial Times, Roger Altman, former deputy Treasury secretary, said:
       “A turn in the [housing] market is occurring now and it should become a boom by 2015.”
And Jamie Dimon says the U.S housing market has “turned the corner” as JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, the two biggest US Banks have seen a surge in mortgage demand. He also warned that interest rates would “probably” rise “sometime in 2013”.

What Does That Mean to You?
If you have been waiting for the bottom in real estate prices, it seems your time may have arrived. As the Money-Rate article concluded:
“The housing market may be better off than people know. As many found out during the housing boom, waiting until everyone knows the market is healthy before you buy can be an expensive proposition.”
**Information taken from KCM Blog
If you are considering buying or selling a home in Evanston, please let us know.  Your experience should be one that leaves you feeling  satisfied.  Be sure to contact us today so that we can put our expertise in the Evanston Real Estate market to work for you!
The Thomas Team
Chicago's #1 Real Estate Brokerage
Chicago & North Shore Real Estate
Visit Our Website
View Our Listings
Contact Us

Friday, September 21, 2012

Buying or Selling a home in the Fall or Winter

If you're buying or selling a home and the end of the spring-summer real estate season is stressing you out, relax.  Even though real estate sales do fall off at the end of warm weather, there's still plenty of buying and selling coming this fall and winter.
Remember, sales volume is not your problem. The only house you care about is the one you're selling or hoping to buy. What's more, many home buyers and sellers are bucking the seasonal nature of residential real estate. They're finding that buying or selling Evanston houses in the fall and winter months has many advantages -- not the least of which are the gorgeous fall leaf colors and holiday decorations that showcase many homes to their fullest potential
No matter which side of the transaction you're on, you can make the off-season work to your advantage. Here's why:

  • Buyers are motivated. Many off-season Evanston buyers are more serious than some among the horde who descend like locusts on open houses in the spring. After all, there's a reason they didn't buy during the peak season. Perhaps they didn't have enough for a down payment or couldn't get financed. The fact that they've entered the market in a downtime might be very meaningful
  • There is a Second Season.  While sales definitely fall of in the early fall, they usually escalate again in October in many area.
  • Cyber Sales.  The expansion of the internet and the numbers of people who use it have added a significant off-season dimension to Evanston real estate stales.  Potential Evanston buyers now find Evanton properties for sale in the comfort of their home through a vast array of Websites, such as  Virtual tours can take them into homes an they can preview neighborhoods, schools and city information before venturing our.
  • Hindsight.  When you put up a home for sale in the fall or winter, you have the advantage of hindsight.  You and your agent can review which homes sold quickly in your area during the warm-weather "peak season."  This gives you the chance to adjust your price and terms accordingly and to make your home more marketable.
  • There's Less Competition. How many times did that darling Evanton house you had your eye on in May get bought out from under you while you and your spouse talked over making an offer the very next day.  Sellers are often pressured. Motivation is critical in any real estate situation. Find out how long the house has been on the market. If it's been hanging around awhile, there's a good chance the seller is getting antsy. Sellers frequently drop their price -- especially as Christmas draws near -- giving buyers lower down payments and closing costs. If it went on the market after the peak season ended, the seller may have a pressing reason to sell, such as a job transfer, financial problems, divorce or illness to name just a few.
  • Tax Considerations. When you buy a new home before the end of the year, you'll be able to report items such as mortgage interest, points, closing costs, property taxes and more on your tax return.
  •  Interest Rates. If you're ready to buy, waiting until next spring can spell disaster. Many experts think we've seen the end of record-low interest rates and that mortgage rates will only go up from here
  •  Beating Price Hikes. As high as the Evanston home prices may seem to you now, chances are they'll only be higher when a new real estate season starts in March.
As Evanston Real Estate agents, The Thomas Team, we hope these tips are useful as you consider buying or selling a home in Evanston. Our goal is to provide you with current real estate information and tips as you enter the Evanston Real Estate market.

If you are ready to begin the process or still have a few more questions; please contact us! We’re here to help in any way we can and we look forward to working with you!

The Thomas Team

Chicago's #1 Real Estate Brokerage

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Monday, August 20, 2012

House Prices: Window of Opportunity Beginning to Close

There have been conflicting opinions as to where housing prices are headed. We want to give our opinion on this subject for the short term. We believe Evanston sellers have a window of opportunity for the next 90-120 days in which to sell their homes for maximum price. We believe there will be increased downward pressure on Evanston home prices throughout the rest of the year.

Why renewed downward pressure?
Any item’s price is determined by ‘supply and demand’.  In Evanston, existing housing inventory has dropped to historic norms in the last few months. However, an inventory of distressed properties, (foreclosures and short sales), have been coming to the Evanston market this year and will increase going into 2013. This inventory has been delayed for over a year as the Federal and state governments crafted an agreement with the five largest banks and mortgage servicers to establish a roadmap for how a foreclosure must be properly completed. That agreement, the National Mortgage Settlement, was earlier this year.

What Impact Will the Agreement Have on Foreclosures?
Brandon Moore, chief executive of RealtyTrac, explains:
“The settlement sets forth clear guidelines for lenders and servicers to follow when foreclosing, which should allow them to push through some of the delayed foreclosures from last year.”

How Many Foreclosures Could We Be Talking About?
Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities tells us:
“The settlement helps the housing market in the long run because it allows banks to proceed with millions of foreclosures that have been stalled.”

What will this mean to Evanston home prices?
Distresses properties such as foreclosures and short sales are currently at 7% of the total Evanston market. As more of this inventory comes to market, it will impact Evanston home prices in two ways:
   1. It will bring to market discounted competition for buyers
   2. It will impact the appraisal values of all homes in the area

Bottom Line
There is a window of opportunity currently which Evanston sellers should take advantage of. Waiting until later this year will not guarantee a higher sales price. If anything, in many areas, it probably guarantees the exact opposite.

Selling your Evanston home can seem like a daunting process, but we’re here to answer any questions you have about selling your home. Your home selling experience should be one that leaves you feeling satisfied. Be sure to contact us today so we can put our expertise in the Evanston Real Estate market to work for you!
*Information taken from the KCM Blog

The Thomas Team

Chicago's #1 Real Estate Brokerage
Chicago & North Shore Real Estate
Visit Our Website
View Our Listings
Contact Us

Monday, August 6, 2012

Top 10 Red Flags for Evanston Homebuyers

Sellers don't always disclose the whole truth to potential homebuyers, especially if they're eager to sell (or "motivated" in real estate lingo). But you can't afford to get a professional inspection of every house you tour. So before you spring for the pro, you and your Evanston Real Estate agent should narrow down your choices by doing your own pre-inspection to spot potential problems.

1.      Mass Exodus From the Neighborhood
Don't let a home's curb appeal keep you from glancing down the street. Are there several other homes for sale? Are nearby businesses boarded up or vandalized? Get the scoop from the neighbors and your Evanston agent. If everyone else wants to leave the street, maybe you should, too. Just do it before you're stuck with a bad investment.

2.      Mediocre Maintenance
Three layers of roofing and gutters with plants growing in them are signs the owners aren't big on maintaining their home. What else did they neglect?  More telltale signs of poor maintenance are overgrown lawns with weeds, cracked peeling or dirty painted surfaces, makeshift wiring or plumbing or broken fixtures and appliances.

3.      Foundation Failures
Check out the yard grading. If the yard slopes toward the house, it could cause water to run down the foundation walls or into the basement, which will be costly to repair. Scour the foundation for damage. Bulges or cracks bigger than one-third inch can mean the house has serious structural issues.

4.      Bad Smells (Inside or Outside)
Take a big whiff of the air inside and outside the house. Do you smell anything funky? If you can't smell anything but the huge baskets of potpourri all over the house, this could be a red flag.

5.      Faulty or Old Wiring
While you're probably not an electrician, make sure all the switches and outlets in the house function properly. Flickering lights, circuits that don't work and warm or hot outlets or faceplates are all symptoms of wiring problems.

6.      Fresh Paint on One Wall
New paint can really spruce up drab walls, but it can also hide bigger problems, like water damage, mildew or mold. If the room smells strange or if you see stains or saggy walls or ceilings, have an inspector look for mold and leaks.

7.      Locked Doors and Blockades
Ask about any rooms that are "off limits" during your home tour, and arrange with your Evanston realtor to see them later if you're interested in the house.

8.      Foggy or Nonfunctioning Windows
Check for water in between double-paned windows and make sure all the windows are functional.
 9.      Structural Walls or Floors Have Been Removed
Sure you love the open floor plan, but was the house always open or did the homeowners renovate? If they removed a load-bearing wall without adjusting the framing, it can shift weight to other parts of the house. Hire a structural engineer if you think any renovations are questionable.
10.  Bugs!
No one wants a house with a pest problem, be it roaches, mice or, worst of all, termites. Be on the lookout for unwelcome creatures as you tour the house. Even if no foes pop out while you're there, consider a separate termite inspection if you're thinking of purchasing the property.
BOTTOM LINE: Always get a professional inspection
Yeah, it's a little expensive, but it's worth every penny. Skipping a home inspection is not a good way to cut homebuying costs. You'll end up paying more in the long run when problems inevitably arise.
As you can see, having an Evanston Real Estate agent on your side that can help you navigate through the buying process is imperative to your success in the housing market. If you are considering buying an Evanston home or are hoping to sell your Evanston home please let us know! Our team of experienced Evanston real estate agents would enjoy the opportunity to help you reach your goals!
We look forward to hearing from you!
The Thomas Team
Chicago's #1 Real Estate Brokerage

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Home Staging & Staging a House

Dressing a House for Success

Home staging is about illusions. It's how David Copperfield would sell a house. It's beyond decorating and cleaning. It's about perfecting the art of creating moods. Staging makes your house look bigger, brighter, cleaner, warmer, more loving and, best of all, it makes home buyers want to buy it.

Contrary to what you might think, it's about more than preparing your Evanston home for sale. Staging is what you do after you've cleaned, de-cluttered, painted, made minor repairs; it's all about dressing the house for sale.   It's about adding the small details: the lipstick, mascara and, for simplicity, a stunning, single strand of Tahitian pearls.

What is a Professional Home Stager?

Professional stagers are highly skilled artists. They can take a blank canvas and paint a sensuous portrait without ever lifting a paint brush. Stagers possess the skills of a top-level designer and they create dramatic scenery that appeals to all five senses. Here are some of their secrets:
  • Arrange sparse pieces of furniture in an appealing grouping known as a vignette
  • Showcase a generous usage of soft fabrics such as silk, lambswool, satin
  • Display unusual knickknacks in units of 1, 3 or 5
  • Drape window coverings with simple lines
  • Add unique elements to shelving, bookcases and fireplace mantels, which draw attention to predetermined areas

What Accessories Does a Stager Use?

Stagers will bring in a vast array of items to spruce up your Evanston home. Here is a small sampling of items professional stagers often use to dress each room. How they are utilized is limited only by the creativity and vision of the stager.
  • Plants
  • Mirrors
  • Silk Flowers
  • Floor & Table Lamps
  • Area & Throw Rugs
  • Small Love Seats
  • Ottomans
  • Afghans
  • Pillows
  • Inflatable Queen-Size Beds
  • Baskets
  • Plastic Tables & Chairs

Professional Staging Tricks & Tips

An artist for 35 years, Dawna Johnson, is an Accredited Staging Professional Master (ASP) and owner of Sacramento Staging Solutions. She says the idea behind staging is to allow rooms to show themselves. "If your home is vacant, it's soulless," Dawna warns. "Without staging, it will probably remain on the market for many months." She calls the kitchen the "heart of the home," and offers this practical advice for making that space sparkle:
  • Apply orange oil to cabinets that appear dry, which will renew their original luster
  • Put out large bowls of fruit such as polished apples, bright oranges, luscious grapes
  • Arrange colorful and fu cookbooks on the counters
Dawna believes in bringing the outdoors inside through the use of greenery and plants; in creating clean, crisp spaces and arranging furniture with plenty of room to walk around. She says bathrooms are essential to dress well. "Bathrooms should look open, airy and delightful," says Dawna. One of her favorite tricks is to add baskets filled with spa treatments such as:
  • Towels tied with ribbons
  • Scented soaps
  • Creamy lotions
  • Moisturizing & Facial jars
The backyard needs staging, too.  For patios and decks, bring in plants and potted flowers, and add additional color by setting the picnic table with bright, plastic dinner plates.

How Much Does it Cost?

The Thomas Team provides complimentary home staging to their listing clients. If you hire a professional, prices may vary depending on where you live and the local demand for professional home staging. Some real estate agents help the seller stage the home themselves.  Most agents agree, however, that vacant homes show better with staging and will encourage sellers to stage their home.  

We hope that these tips will help provide the atmosphere needed to make an Evanston home buyer fall in love with your home. As always, we’re here to help and would enjoy the opportunity to talk with you about selling and staging your Evanston home.

Selling your Evanston home can seem like an overwhelming process in the midst of this current buyer’s market. You want to do everything you can to help it stand out from the competition and it can seem like getting your home sold all on your shoulders.

As Evanston Real Estate agents, we know the pressure a seller feels. Our goal is to make the seller feel as relaxed as possible as we handle all the details that go into selling an Evanston home. While it can feel nerve-wracking to let go and allow us to handle the sale of your home; it’s important to remember that our expertise in the Evanston Real Estate market is going to help the process run smoothly.

The Thomas Team
Chicago's #1 Real Estate Brokerage